Opening up: Open Innovation in a closed market?

When Paul Prinsloo asked me if Chesbrough’s funnel could be open on both sides, the economist in me cried NoNoNo!

This initial reaction is caused by schooling in traditional economic thinking. The concise version of this reasoning is as follows. Firms have to invest funds in research and development. Only 20% of the projects started will survive towards the stage of commercialization, where another part will be lost in the implementation stage. This means that, once the final product or service is on the market, the profits have to be large enough to compensate the firm for all initial investments, including failures and restarts. To generate profits of this size, the firm has to have some kind of monopoly power for a given period. This can be guaranteed through some specific competences, materials but mostly through property rights and patents.

The theory tells us that in a world without protection, the firm which makes the initial costs will not earn enough before its competitors enter the market with imitations or even improvement on the initial innovation. Innovative firms will go bankrupt, so there will be too little or even no innovation in this world.

Open innovation still depends on property rights, but it changes the situation in the sense that inventions, patents and innovations are bought and sold. Firms search externally for usable patents and supply their inventions and patents to the market if they deviate to much of the existing business model. Chesbrough assumes that through this mechanism costs will decrease and efficiency will increase as more research is used in innovations and failures will only influence the innovating firm (how these costs are influence the collective wealth is unclear in his model).

So open innovation is about increasing cooperation, but within a market setting. However, cooperation will lead to shared experiences and this can result in shared values, creating more business opportunities.

Collaboration is also necessary because on the output side of the model things are changing. Firstly, there is the influence of ict. For a lot of business, their main function was to select and stock products, produced by others. For example publishers (both of music and books), who selected the writers and bands of good quality, took care of the distribution of their work and made a living by selling these products. In essence, this is the same for super markets, which decide which goods to offer to the consumers, choosing from a large range of alternatives.


However, as Chris Anderson described in The Long Tail, in a web based society producers can place their products on websites, whether self published books, music or specialized goods which were normally not chosen by large risk adverse companies. Although some authors, composers, bands and small producers will act purely on their own, others search for collaboration to share sales channels; using each other traffic on the website to generate trade for themselves, see for example the Strange New Products website or Weird Music.Web.

Secondly, the tendency towards co-creation. Accepting the fact that value is created in the use of products, not in the sales transaction, the buyer plays a major role in realizing the full value of a product or a service. To give a consumer the freedom, to adapt the product or service to his or her own wishes, collaboration with other firms is almost unavoidable.

Taking those two tendencies together, the market side of firms is opening up, requiring the input side to open up. Open innovation makes co-creation and specialization possible, but market developments in their turn push collaboration (and by that open innovation): opening up one side of the process will cause the other side to open up too.

Berkeleyan, Hulda Nelson imageOpenness means different things in different fields. Open in the sense of open source means free. Open access in the sense of the British government means that the producer (author) pays for the deliverance of his product, open in open education can mean without start qualifications or gratis. Open innovation means that the research outputs are shared over the borders of the firm, caused by or stimulating co-creation on the output side of the firm; increasing access to knowledge and innovation without fundamentally changing property rights.

Another difference is that –despite the fact that all behaviour is free- the openness in innovation and co-creation is enforced by the market forces, whereas openness in software and education mostly is voluntary. Perhaps a nice subject for another blog?

Is strategy back?

You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you.

Attributed to Leon Trotsky

Strategy in real life has never been far away, however in academics it seemed to be a period in time that strategic thinking was out of fashion. Or as a former dean of our faculty said: Strategy is about everything, so it has to say something about everything. Strategy became an adjective, in the sense of strategic human resources, strategic management or strategic operational decision-making. Since the introduction of the business model, the business canvas and open innovation, strategy has again become a serious topic. Comparing the different approaches in strategy, you can see a common point. All modern approaches put the customer central, moving to a more service oriented theory of the customer (the so-called Service Dominant Logic). On the input side of the business model, there is a certain distinction between approaches. For example, the Osterwalder canvas lists cooperation as one of the fields of importance in determining your business model; the Prahalad approach and Open Innovation of Chesbrough and van Haverbeke are even more explicit in setting cooperation as one of the essential competences to develop unique competitive advantages. As Prahalad put it in “The Age of Innovation”, it is not ownership of resources, but access to resources even if they are owned by other firms.

In another context I have shown that this is the reason why open innovation is counted as part of the so-called Open Movement. The Open Movement consists of Open Source, the development and implementation of free software by a massive group of volunteers; Open Access, the movement against expensive publishers and for opening up all kind of resources; Open Education, a mix of different kind of educational resources for teachers and learners, total free courses and programs provided by volunteers but also by top universities and Open Innovation, the realization that collaboration of firms is necessary if innovation has to be successful in the present complex world. These initiatives range from a completely free towards a copyright protected exchange of ideas. As Open Business Models are a part of the Open Movement, the success of open activities requires new business models. For example, it is now possible to use your computer with a free Linux Operating System, using FreeOffice, (replacing Microsoft Office) and other kinds of free software, including web development software as Moodle. This calls for new business models on the part of commercial software: what are the features people are prepared to pay money for, as there is a free alternative? Open Access caused a major discussion between the UK government, academics and the publishers. .The UK government has taken the decision that work, paid for by the British taxpayer will be free available online for universities, companies and individuals, to use for any purpose, wherever they are in the world (The Guardian, 15 July 2012 ). To make this possible, the government changes the business model of scientific publishers from being paid by the subscribers of their journals to making the authors pay an ‘Article Processing Charge’ (APC) around £2,000 per article. This APC is financed by the research funds of universities and research institutions (the so-called Golden approach, commission Finch; contrasting the Green approach). Open Access will change the business models in publishing, but possible also in other artistic business as movies, music ect. Open Education is about individuals and organizations offering different kinds of education and educational resources. Sometimes for free, sometimes for a small fee. New technological developments allow a larger access, a broader participation in education. Partly this will make good education available in places where it was not available before, Secondly; it sets the standard for other teachers as students can compare the free course with the courses at their university. However, it can also influence the business model of traditional and distance teaching universities. What do these institutions offer to make up for the fees as compared to the free courses? Of course, Open Innovation is less about getting things for free but more about the must to cooperate, opening up a traditional very closed activity. Surely, research and development departments were heavily guarded places, whereas now, openness and interaction are propagated in by the open innovation and open business model approaches, Yet, there are still approaches which stress the importance of the closed enterprise. For example the blue ocean – red ocean approach of Kim and Mauborgne assumes that the firm has to move towards a position of relative loneliness, to survive. In these approaches strategic decisions have to do with the distinction between the firm and its competitors. If the resources you use are available for everyone, there is no distinguishing competitive advantage!

The more co-creation and non-price factors determine the competitive position of an organization, the more important collaboration with other firms. The more price competition determines the success and survival of the organization, the more important specific individual competences become. Strategy is about recognizing your own position in relation with the outside world, the industrial relationships, the customers, competitors and others. Copying the behavior of others will not lead to an unique position, collaboration can result in a competitive advantage when combined with special internal competences. The same applies for the motto attributed to Leon Trotsky at the beginning of this blog. Searching the internet, this quote can be found at hundreds of websites. However, at the more serious websites pointing towards publications in which the quotes can be found, this quote is not found; the only quote looking like it is: “You may not be interested in the dialectic, but the dialectic is interested in you”.

Copying the “free content” provided at many websites might not always be the best policy to get the best results 😎